Mapping Bali #19: The Balai Kulkul

Culture | Written By, Bruce Granquist | July 10th, 2017

The final element that completes the classic south Bali village center is a wooden drum tower, a Balai Kul Kul. If the Wantilan is the meeting hall, the Balai Kul Kul is the public address system. Pounding on a wooden drum to communicate within a village is an ancient Southeast Asian tradition and is still used on a daily basis in Bali. The messages are sent through various patterns of drum beats, the intensity of the beating also adds emphasis to the message. The drumming might signal a meeting in the Wantilan, or the beginning of a temple ceremony. There is a drumming rhythm which means there is an emergency, maybe a fire, maybe even vigilantes from a nearby village preparing to fight. For whatever this emergency might be, the men are expected to grab their machetes and head to the crisis. In present days someone will make a call to the police office so a referee will be on hand if needed.

Both Wantilan and Balai Kul Kul stand somewhat apart from the stricter cannons of temple architecture and therefore have some more freedom in their design. Some of these structures become individualistic and even eccentric.

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This graceful architectural statement (on the page opposite) was located at one of Denpasar’s busiest intersections. It their efforts t weave in and out of the traffic, most drivers missed this beautiful tower. This was one building that deserved to be lifted up and set squarely in the centre of a quiet park so that people could enjoy its form. But all this must be written in the past tense because in 2011 this structure was demolished to make way for a more modern version.

Balai Kulkul

This example above is from Pura Penataran in the village of Suter near the rim of the Batur caldera, and is representative of smaller mountain villages. But even though they are simpler than the more grandiose examples in the south central cultural centres, this example shares the same ritual importance.

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An extremely rare five sided Balai Kul Kul, this is one of three examples that are located along a line from the city of Tabanan up to the foothills of Mount Batukaru. This example is located in the village of Biaung. It is hard to imagine a more difficult challenge for the builders – was the architect expressing a spiritual revelation? Or perhaps he wanted to see if this form was possible to build, or maybe he wanted to create his masterpiece.

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Bruce Granquist

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